Claire Collins, AA, Washington, D.C., calls rowing “a sport of contradictions.” While a boat gliding across a placid lake looks beautiful as rowers move in a flowing, synchronized motion, inside the boat it “feels a bit chaotic.” Claire, a two-time Olympian who’s been rowing for over a decade, knows how to thrive in that chaos.

After playing multiple sports as a kid in McLean, Virginia, Claire started rowing in high school. It came pretty naturally and she absolutely loved it. As Claire excelled in both athletics and academics, she was recruited for rowing by Princeton University. A well-rounded student athlete with great potential, Claire was also the recipient of a P.E.O. STAR Scholarship.

Claire’s star continued to rise at Princeton, where she studied economics and became a standout on the rowing team. In 2019, Claire won the C. Otto von Keinbusch Award for Princeton’s top senior female athlete and was nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year.

Immediately after graduation, she began training at the USRowing training center in West Windsor, New Jersey. She began her international career in the U.S. women’s four, a boat with four athletes each rowing with one oar, and was selected for the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Tokyo in 2021. She was named to the Olympic team again this year and will compete in Paris, France, this summer. In preparation for this event on the world stage, the team trains six or seven hours a day, six days a week, including a three-hour session on the water in the morning then either another water session or a strength/cardio training session in the afternoon.

During a 2,000-meter race, rowers fully exert themselves for 6-7 minutes. Claire says that physiologically, this is the pinnacle of power and endurance, so training for both is essential. The team also works on technique to make their strokes as efficient as possible. Much of the sport requires mental toughness as well. Claire explains, “In practice we’re constantly teaching our bodies that it can do more than we think it can; there’s a lot of training that happens with your mind in terms of learning how to feel confident, believe in yourself and your teammates. Your mind affects a lot; anxiety or race nerves can manifest physically, so being in the best condition physically for a race while also feeling relaxed requires a lot of mental energy.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Claire and her teammates rely on each other to get race ready. On a team (typically between 20 and 30 women) there are a variety of personalities to contend with in intense, stressful and exciting
situations. Claire says, “I feel very lucky, it’s been very rewarding to learn through these relationships and I think the biggest thing we’ve all learned in this process is empathy. People are going to have their moments, highs and lows, at different times and just being aware and understanding of other people—I think is one of the greatest things I’ve learned.

“As part of a team, my success is their success. So you are not only trying to get the most potential out of yourself, but trying to get the most out of my teammates and that can come in different forms—knowing what people respond to and communicating effectively to build a great team dynamic. I think that’s one of my strengths—I’m pretty even keeled and I’m a middle child so I
naturally become a mediator; it has its challenges, but I like that role. I work with a great group of women who will be friends for the rest of my life.”

Two smiling women in a boat, holding up bronze medals

Claire Collins (left) and teammate Maddie Wanamaker won bronze medals in the women’s pair at the 2022 World Rowing Championships in Prague

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going for the Gold
Claire doesn’t mince words when it comes to her goal for the 2024 Olympics. “I would really like to win a gold medal.” Beyond that, she says, “I’d like to be at my best; I get a sense of peace knowing I’ve put my best effort out there and I always really hone in on that.”

She continued, “I am very proud to represent the U.S., especially at an event where the world is supposed to put their differences aside and just the sense of peacefulness and respect when I competed in Tokyo. Athletes of all countries would sit next to each other in the dining hall, even if their countries had fundamental political differences or were in conflict. It is a very unique experience to be in such a vibrant worldly place where so much is represented, yet the focus is so simple: perform your sport to your best ability.”

Ties to P.E.O.

Claire (left) with her mother Patti and sister, Faith, at the 2018 Washington, D.C., convention. As a recipient of a STAR Scholarship and an ELF loan, Claire was a featured speaker.

Claire knew about P.E.O. from a young age. Her mother, Patti, a member of Chapter AA, Washington, D.C., introduced Claire and her sisters, Faith and Sarah, to the Sisterhood and all remain active members to this day.

When Claire moved to New Jersey, her mother encouraged her to find a local chapter. While she maintains her membership in Chapter AA, Washington, D.C., Chapter AE, Princeton, has “adopted” Claire and has become her chapter away from home.

Claire travels a lot with rowing but when she’s in New Jersey and her practice schedule allows, she attends Chapter AE meetings. Even when she’s not around, Claire feels the loving concern of her P.E.O. sisters. “They’re very sweet, sending me cards and things when I’m traveling,” said Claire.

She continued, “It’s just exactly what P.E.O. is for—having a wonderful group of women to connect with and I’ve learned a lot from each of them, it’s just been great to have such a welcoming community here. I know it’s characteristic of the women in this organization but, in a beautiful way, it’s always surprising to me that even when I’ve been gone for a long time, I go to a meeting and they are so excited to see me and hear about how things are going. And I love hearing what’s going on in their lives as well. For not having grown up here or really known them before a couple years ago, it’s really nice that they show so much interest in my life. It’s really very special how welcoming and kind the women are in this organization, you really don’t see it everywhere.”

The Future
Claire has her sights on the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, but in the meantime has other lofty goals, plus intends to take some much-needed time for herself. For the next two years, Claire will focus on her career in market research consulting. Next year, she will be attending Cambridge University to get her MBA and is looking forward to traveling and spending time with friends and
family.

 

Article Info

Byline

Becky Frazier, Editor, The P.E.O. Record

Topic

Membership

Article Type

Special Feature

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